Surf’s definitely up this summer, as fashion brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Aviator Nation roll out board shorts, hoodies and tropical-printed clothing that harken to the early fifties, when waveriding and its laid-back, Southern California style of dressing first became popular.
“There’s a certain effortlessness to traditional surf style,” says Malcolm Johnson, editor of SBC Surf, a semi-annual Canadian surfing magazine.
“You look at old photographs [of surfers] and they’re wearing tees or simple, collared shirts with canvas shorts, sunglasses and a pair of flip-flops. I think that simplicity appeals to a lot of guys, especially in the summer,” Johnson says. “Nobody wants to be sitting on a patio in a suit and tie.”
Instead, fashionable gents are looking to retailers such as Saturdays Surf NYC for a new, more sophisticated take on beach-inspired apparel than surfwear brands such as Quiksilver, Volcom and Billabong have offered over the years.
Launched in 2009 by three friends and fellow wave riders, Saturdays has grown from a coffee-cumsurf shop in SoHo servicing local dudes who frequent the swells in Montauk and Fire Island to a successful men’s – wear brand with four stores (two in both New York and Japan) and a newly launched lifestyle magazine.
Saturdays’ 2013 spring/summer line, consisting of boldly striped button-downs, retro-looking board shorts and fitted chinos, is proving popular among male shoppers at Toronto’s Jonathan+Olivia, which was the first Canadian boutique to carry the line.
“But it’s not just the clothing,” says Nic Jones, one of the store’s owners. “It’s the people behind the brand and their lifestyles that guys want to associate [themselves] with. Wear Saturdays and you’re cool,” he quips.
Tommy Hilfiger is hoping to catch a similar wave with its new Surf Shack collection, launched last month.
The 16 pieces for men, which include cotton shorts with chambray waistbands and cuffs, bright plaid jackets and the Sundown Sweater (a striped, woven pullover, more commonly known in the surfing world as a Baja hoodie), are complemented by a series of slick surfboards, custom designed for Hilfiger by American contemporary artists including Raymond Pettibon, Scott Campbell and Richard Phillips.
In a similar collaborative spirit, Club Monaco has teamed up with Katin, a California surf-wear company founded in 1959. The company’s durable T-shirts, swim trunks, beach shorts and hats are now available in limited quantities at three Toronto Club Monaco locations. While over at MR PORTER, the Japanese streetwear brand Beams Plus has crafted a capsule collection for the e-tailer featuring oxford shirts and Bermuda shorts embroidered with a whimsical image of a man surfing on top of a preppy loafer.
Also from California are sun-bleached sweats and graphic tees by Aviator Nation, whose designer, Paige Mycoskie, just made GQ’s annual list of the best new men’s-wear designers in America.
But with all these fashion companies taking their cues from surf culture, one has to wonder how hard-core surfers feel about designers and non-surfing dudes biting their style?
“Sometimes I get annoyed about companies appropriating surfing,” says John Witzig, an experienced surfer and the photographer behind the newly released book A Golden Age: Surfing’s Revolutionary 1960s and ’70s. “But it will never affect the experience of one person on one wave.”
It’s a sentiment that Johnson agrees with: “For lifelong surfers, the focus is on the waves and not how cool you look on the way to the beach.”
That’s certainly the case in British Columbia, where Johnson lives and surfs. “Besides a wetsuit, surf style over here is pretty much just a raincoat, sweater and rubber boots.”